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The drug policy of the Netherlands officially has four major objectives:
- To prevent recreational drug use and to treat and rehabilitate recreational drug users.
- To reduce harm to users.
- To diminish public nuisance by drug users (the disturbance of public order and safety in the neighbourhood).
- To combat the production and trafficking of recreational drugs.
Most policymakers in the Netherlands believe that if a problem has proved to be unsolvable, it is better to try controlling it and reducing harm instead of continuing to enforce laws with mixed results. By contrast, most other countries take the point of view that recreational drug use is detrimental to society and must therefore be outlawed. This has caused friction between the Netherlands and other countries about the policy for cannabis, most notably withFrance and Germany. As of 2004, Belgium seems to be moving toward the Dutch model and a few local German legislators are calling for experiments based on the Dutch model. Switzerland has had long and heated parliamentary debates about whether to follow the Dutch model on cannabis, most recently deciding against it in 2004; currently a ballot initiative is in the works on the question. In the last few years certain strains of cannabis with higher concentrations of THC and drug tourism have challenged the current policy and led to a re-examination of the current approach.
While the legalization of cannabis remains controversial, the introduction of heroin-assisted treatment in 1998 has been lauded for considerably improving the health and social situation of opiate-dependent patients in the Netherlands. In 2010 research shows that the "heroin-junkies" have disappeared from the streets of the Netherlands and the treatment is upgraded from a test-trial to standard treatment for otherwise untreatable addicts. Also, the number of heroin addicts has dropped by more than 30% since 1983.